June 20, 2017
State-of-the-art recording studios, sound engineers and audio producers are not what you would expect to find at a publishing house. However, year-on-year increases in audio book sales have forced publishers to up their game both in terms of facilities, staff and marketing.
According to the Association of American Publishers’ StatShot, sales of downloaded audio books for the first three quarters of 2016 grew 29.6% compared to the same period in 2015. In November 2016, sales of digital audio books rose 47.2% compared with November 2015. The Audio Publishers Association annual report too showed in 2015, audio book sales were 20.7% higher than in 2014 and that 2016 sales had increased again by 18.2%. The audio book’s popularity seems knows no bounds.
Audio, specifically, digital downloads, are dominating the market and delighting publishers by enabling them to increase and diversify their title output – though the change is not without its challenges. Mary Beth Roche, president and publisher of Macmillan Audio told Publishers Weekly that: “The hard part is figuring out where you need the additional resources. If you’re adding more titles, where are the pain points going to be? I’m looking at production, marketing, design, as well as the people who are managing the metadata and making sure that all of that is being optimized.”
Increased workload on staff and additional resources are taking their toll with many publishers hiring and diverting resources to expand or create studio space. Amanda D’Acierno, senior vice president and publisher at Penguin Random House Audio told Publishers Weekly that her division was again expanding studios in New York and had hired additional production and operations staff, “To ensure we have ample resources to produce more than 900 titles this year.”
Marketing is another area where publishers have to think and act differently. In addition to social media and email campaigns, there are partnerships being formed that are based on audio book use. For example, people frequently say they enjoy listening while cooking or driving so Macmillan’s marketing has included sponsorships with food companies and promotions for Avis rental-car’s business customers. It means audio book user surveys such as the APA’s are gold dust for marketers, planning the audio book campaigns months before the book’s release. Clever partnerships based on user profiles aren’t the only marketing tool. Specially recorded audio and video clips of the authors or actors in the studio create a wealth of content that can be posted to the book’s landing page, the author’s Facebook page and various fan forums.
So audio is big business and it’s clear that much work is frantically being done behind the scenes to capitalize on it and support its growth. There’s also a sense that publishers are experimenting with its potential and having great fun. As Roche says, “Audio has gotten sexy.” Yes, yes it has.